Original Interview: September 2017

Peck & Company

If you didn’t know already—we’re big fans of reading (the real book kind) and that’s another reason why we’re big fans of Benji Peck from Peck & Company! Benji has an amazing list of recommended reads for all creatives to get those creative juices going and challenge your perspective on things.

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?
I loved art throughout my childhood, but my high school didn’t have an art program at all, so I was without much direction. When it came time for college, I was looking for scholarships, and one that was available was for the Advertising/Design School at Oklahoma Christian University. I submitted 5 pencil drawings and got the scholarship. I had zero idea of what Design was, but I signed up for it anyway. At the time the school had a strong focus on advertising and design was very much secondary. But what I learned in those first 2 years of school was the importance of concept. Our professors were adamant about strong conceptual thinking on every project. At the same time, coming out of my Sophomore year, I was still unsure about where my passions truly lay, much less my future career path.

The next semester I studied abroad in Vienna, Austria. In the three months I was there, my best friend and fellow design major and I travelled to almost every country in Western Europe. The experience completely changed my perception, and solidified my love of design and communication. Seemingly everywhere I looked, art and design were ingrained in the fabric of these cities, playing significant roles in their cultures. I was hooked. I came back with a new focus and took a job the following semester at a web design studio in OKC, working part time after school at a design studio called Visual Inventor, designing websites.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
After graduation, my part-time job at Visual Inventor turned into a full-time position where I stayed until moving to Nashville to work at EMI designing album artwork. My two greatest loves were music and design and the opportunity to combine these two things seemed like a dream come true. And for the time I was there, it was great. I was getting great experience art directing photoshoots, learning to work with the clients, communicating with artists, and getting to design album artwork.

What are your three must-read design books and why?
There are a few staples that every designer should have on their shelf like Start with Why, Made to Stick and anything Seth Godin writes (Tribes is a good place to start).

That said, if there’s one thing I think designers (myself included) need to do more of, it’s read. Hardback, e-book, audiobook, whatever works. There are a few books I’ve read recently that deserve a mention. Some are design-related, some are not, but any/all of them have helped me adjust my perspective, and encourage me to be a better designer, thinker and person.

1. How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, Debbie Millman
This book is full of great interviews with some of design’s most influential voices, answering the questions we all ask ourselves on a daily basis.

2. Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday
A great reminder that perspective is everything.

3. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
A thoroughly entertaining, at times jaw-dropping, look behind the scenes at the restaurant industry. Fun and enlightening for lots of reasons, but what hit home for me was his description of the importance of every single member of a kitchen staff, and the amount of commitment, focus, and personal responsibility it takes to make a kitchen (or a design studio for that matter) produce quality products with reproducible consistency.

4. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.
Whether you want to be a better designer, communicator, person or parent, we must learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, taking that leap of faith into vulnerability. This book will challenge you if you let it.

What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate?
In 2016, we interviewed over 20 designers for one design position. I think the interviews told me a lot about how we were viewed by others, and the expectations that came along with those perceptions. Of our core values, none is more important to me than “People first.” You can teach skills, it’s a lot more difficult to teach character. What a person says in an interview reveals a lot about what they value, how they view themselves, and what drives them.

But back to those skills. When I interview someone, I am listening for their process, their ability to communicate, strong conceptual thinking, solid reasoning for their use of type, and a desire to continually learn and grow.

If concept is king in our shop, process is queen. It seems people like to think of design and creativity as some kind of magic–like if you mess around for long enough something cool happens and that’s design. While we have all been the recipient of happy accidents, solid processes trump magic every time.

Lastly, the ability to listen and adapt to your audience. A perceptive prospect will always listen for cues throughout the interview and understand their audience.

What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way? 

  1. Check your ego at the door. You will get a lot farther being humble than posturing to prove that you deserve respect.
  2. Don’t be too good for anything, be creative in everything you do—not only design.
  3. Pay attention and observe the world around you. There’s so much to learn, and the best designers are the ones who can take things they observe and apply them to their work. It gives your work contextual relevance.
  4. Put your phone down. There is so much life we are missing out beyond our screens. Observe, relate, interact, and learn from others.
  5. Treat people like people, not stepping stones to your next career move. Even if it takes longer or doesn’t pay off, you’ll be able to sleep at night. But don’t worry it will pay off.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?
I love this question, because on one hand I feel like everything is changing, and at the same time it’s all the same. One thing that seems to be true and probably a good thing, is people’s access-to and awareness-of design, has increased tremendously over the last 5 years, and I don’t see any reason that would change over the next 5. I do feel however that it really affects the design community, particularly those just getting started in their design career.

We work in a field in which the tempation to “me-too”, to imitate or copy is rampant. I think this has always been the case to some extent, but it’s so much easier for people to do now with the access that everyone has to the Pinterests, Designspirations and Dribbbles out there. I think it makes designers lazy and complacent about finding original ideas. But this may be a good thing for the next 5 years.

This being the case, the designers that will separate themselves from their peers will be the ones that aren’t afraid to abandon trends, get off the computer, wallow in the muck of their own thoughts and create work that goes beyond style. But hasn’t that always been the case?

What advice would you give students starting out?
Take the time to put careful thought and consideration into your design work.

Don’t be afraid to not know everything. To the contrary, be ready to learn. Better yet, find a mentor that is willing to share their experience and knowledge with you. Better still, have at least one mentor that is not a designer.

Don’t worry so much about developing your “style.” Your style will develop naturally as you gain experience, and being able to show a diversity of work will show your adaptability as a designer.

Lastly, even if you ultimately want to start your own shop, or freelance, or travel, or be a solopreneur or whatever-the-case-may-be, spend at least 2-3 years in a design studio or agency learning the ropes, getting to know the value of client relationships, and the importance of meeting deadlines in a professional environment. That experience and knowledge cannot be taught, and it will serve you well no matter where you end up. Learn to work with people, share ideas, collaborate, and be creative within the constraints of time.

Give something away, find a purpose bigger than yourself, it will help you keep some perspective.

Treat people with dignity, respect and care. Always love.

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